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Affairs of the World

Jan 25, 2005

Rain this morning: I'd just awakened when the rain began, so pleasant to hear this, a cool whispering wash on the earth. (But it's been raining on and off for weeks so this isn't fresh and needed rain: everything's already soaked, and everything gets tedious after a while for people, with memory and desire). Rain clouds moving quickly across the hills. Whole sky gray.

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I gave a talk at the Village Zendo. Very odd to go to a Zen place via elevator, coming in off noisy, busy, hip-hoppy, super chic street, music blaring. Sixty or seventy people were there and the local sangha was surprised at the numbers and hard pressed to find room for everyone. There were eight or ten different Zen groups represented, and many friends and students from everywhere, who are now in or near New York. The small band of New York Everyday Zen regulars were also there (they had organized the talk). It was so nice to see all the familiar faces, dear people I hadn't seen in a long time, I wanted to say hello and give everyone a kiss but such a thing is not possible in the forbidding silent Zen atmosphere. I had come in the middle of kinhin, everyone walking with great solemn dignity in tight lines all around the room. I had to join in without cracking a smile or acknowledging anyone I knew. Inside though I felt quite loose and informal. Amused. It seemed actually rather silly, all this Zen business, and I said this as soon as the sitting periods were over and my talk began. "How silly our practice is- and how marvelous." My talk was about compassion. Several people wanted to know how it was possible to sustain real feeling for the suffering of others in the middle of a world so full of suffering. Practice makes life harder: you feel more suffering more deeply

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December 28, 2004

Dec 28, 2004

t is raining again. Has been for a few days, after a week of bright weather. The hills are covered in mist, water falls continually from the sky. How can it rain so much? Doesn't it get tired of it? Too bad, my brother and his family are here and it means we spend a lot of time sitting around eating and talking which is not so bad after all. A fire in the woodstove. Up above the house, on the hill, looking down into the water below, dolphins swimming. They do not care whether it rains or not. Many small birds are walking around in the rain because I suppose it is more difficult for them to fly.

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These have been very bright days and Kathie, Aron, Noah (our sons) and I have been hiking. Noah is an artist so on the trail we often speak about art and life. It's not easy to be devoted to something like art (and practice is the same way) that doesn't necessarily provide an easy career path, and whose economic value to society is dicey at best. Still, if you have faith, and keep on with what you know is the right thing to do, things work out. You also have to be practical, kind, ethical, and willing to sacrifice. Noah thinks about having a family, and how much harder it would be to survive as an artist with family responsibilities. But even if you do have a family, there is always a way. Not an easy way possibly, but a way. As with practice, determination, energy and diligence are important.

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December 15, 2004

Dec 15, 2004

The Vissudhimagga (The Path of Purification), a fifth century Buddhist classic, says that the development of loving kindness for others requires first the development of lovingkindness toward one's self. It quotes a verse by the Buddha that goes: I visited all quarters with my mind Nor found I any dearer than myself Self is likewise to every other dear Who loves himself will never harm another This from the sage who taught "no self" and the "empty nature of all phenomena!"

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Rohatsu at Mar de Jade

Dec 10, 2004

I am just back from Rohatsu at Mar de Jade. A refreshing sesshin. The mix of Mexican and American students makes it special, brings out a flavor of the Dharma that doesn't come up in the same way north of the border - possibly also the Dharma comes out differently because I am being translated, sentence by sentence, by Laura del Valle and so to save her stress I speak very simply and in short sentences. So the talks (of which there are twice as many as at home- we began in Mexico with Dharma talks at night as well as in the morning, because the Mexican students were inexperienced, and needed more instruction- but we have keep on with this tradition) seem very different. And too, the concerns the Mexican students bring are different, and are experienced differently: with more passion.

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This is my twenty-fifth winter as a Zen Buddhist priest, the fifth year of my beautiful collaboration with my dear friend Rabbi Alan Lew at Makor Or, our Jewish Meditation Center in San Francisco, and the fifth birthday of Everyday Zen. Congratulations to us all!

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Founder's Letter 2004

Nov 01, 2004

Some ruminations today on the Presidential election: A sad result, for me, as for so many others. As I looked at my feelings immediately after the result was clear, I became suspicious. I felt defeated? As if I myself had lost the election. Was I really that sure that things would change dramatically for the better under Kerry; no, I knew that wasn’t really going to be the case anyway. Was I so compassionate that I felt this badly on behalf of the poor world? Maybe it was partly that- but only partly. Maybe also I had over identified with this election, making it, just as the other side had made it, a referendum on the Sixties, a replay of the old feud between the Silent Majority and the alternative culture. Maybe I, along with many others of my generation, had been secretly hoping that this election would vindicate our point of view, showing the world that we had been right all along, and that the majority agreed with us! That the Clinton years were real- not just a boomer interlude between conservative regimes.

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Lately I have been concerned with emotion: precisely what it is and how can we work with it in our practice? Emotion is often viewed as something "soft." Mere feelings need not necessarily be taken into account, or, if they are taken into account, not so importantly. Intellect, analysis, action, and insight are far more important. This, at least, is the usual view.

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On Capital Punishment: (At midnight of February 9, 2004, Kevin Cooper was to be executed executed at San Quentin Prison. A few hours before the execution the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay of execution). Dharma is always uplifting. Even when we are contemplating difficult suffering, when we remember the Dharma it brings some relief, some happiness. So we don't need to avoid suffering. As practitioners we are committed to looking suffering in the face - not only our own suffering, but the suffering of the world, which is after all also ours.

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